On Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, Friends of the National Zoo and the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute announced the dissolution of their 63-year partnership following the large financial impact of COVID-19 on both organizations. We will be transitioning responsibilities, including memberships, to the Zoo over the next few months.

Updates from Lynn Mento, Executive Director

General FAQs

For nearly 63 years, FONZ has been a valued partner of the Smithsonian's National Zoo, with a team dedicated to supporting the Zoo's mission, providing educational and fun experiences, such as Boo at the Zoo and summer camps, and managing a number of support services, from greeting guests to running the retail stores. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has had significant and continued financial impacts on both FONZ and NZP/SCBI, which required a re-assessment of the longstanding relationship. It became clear that our public/private partnership would need to end so that both NZP/SCBI and FONZ could directly oversee mission-critical aspects of their work and sustain their financial health, both during these very challenging times and for the long term.

We will be leaving the Zoo, but we're not dissolving. We're reinventing. We remain so committed to our vision and mission, and we will continue our work—in a new way—to help protect endangered wildlife and to provide inspiring educational opportunities. We don’t know what form that will take, but we’re actively exploring our options now. FONZ has been a part of this community for almost 63 years, and we’re brainstorming and planning now for how we can be here for the community for 63 years to come. We will keep you all posted, and we look forward to the community’s thoughts and input.

There won't be FONZ activities at the Zoo any longer, like our events, camps, classes, Snore 'n' Roars, etc. But the Zoo and the Smithsonian will be immediately picking up some of the work FONZ has done, like membership, guest services and retail store operations. Beyond that, the Zoo and the Smithsonian will be deciding on what they can offer, so make sure to check the Zoo's website to stay posted.

We do have money in reserves, and we've been using that to stay afloat for about a year. We have enough to keep us in operation for a while longer, but it became clear we didn't really have a sustainable model for the long term when paired with the Zoo and Smithsonian's desire to do more of the work themselves. The FONZ Board felt that the right thing to do for FONZ's non-profit mission was not to spend down the reserves through operations to an inevitable end, but instead to use the reserves to serve the community and wildlife in a more sustainable, meaningful, and direct way. We are exploring how best to do that in the years ahead—and we look forward to engaging the community we've served, and that has supported us, for almost 63 years as we think about our future path forward.

Yes. Like many organizations around the world, the pandemic has forced closure of beloved institutions, and forced others to rethink if and how they can continue operating. The same is true for FONZ.

FONZ's members have been the core of FONZ for 63 years. We are here because of our members, and both FONZ and the Zoo are committed to serving them, as they have served us. The Zoo will be creating its own membership program, but it is welcoming FONZ members. All current FONZ members will be able to use the FONZ membership card and ID they already have to access their existing benefits when they visit the Zoo, like access to free parking passes and discounts on food and retail purchases.

For more specific membership questions, see the membership FAQ section below.

We are committed to continuing our mission to help save species through education, inspiration and direct contributions. We don't know what form that will take, but we’re actively exploring our options now. We will keep you all posted, and we look forward to your thoughts.

FONZ remains committed to our dedicated and talented team members, and will be facilitating transfers to Smithsonian staff, as appropriate, and supporting them with outplacement assistance when possible.

Membership Program FAQs

When the Zoo reopens, your current member benefits—such as access to parking passes and discounts on food and gift shop purchases—will be reinstated by the Zoo. COVID-19 precautions pending, your benefits will continue to be offered until your membership expires. You don’t need to do anything – your FONZ membership card and number are all you’ll need for the time being.

Yes! FONZ and the Zoo are working together to ensure a seamless membership transition. You'll receive more information in the coming weeks.

Yes! The Zoo will offer current members their benefits until their membership expires. The Zoo is creating a new membership program, and all current members will automatically become part of that new program. Expect to hear more about that in the coming weeks

If you joined FONZ after Nov. 1, 2020, and are still waiting for your membership cards, you will receive your cards closer to the Zoo's reopening. If you joined prior to Nov. 1, 2020, and you have lost or misplaced your cards, or you suspect they were lost in the mail, please contact us.

If you joined or renewed recently with the promise of extra months, the Zoo will honor that extension

If your membership expires soon, you can renew as normal through FONZ and your membership will be transferred to the Zoo. If your membership doesn’t expire soon, you’ll hear from the Zoo about its new membership program and it will be easy for you to renew

Yes! Members will continue to receive a weekly e-newsletter.

Once it is safe to host special events, the Zoo will send updates about exciting ticketed events and discounts.

Yes! Xiao Qi Ji can't wait to see you. Expect to hear more from the Zoo soon

Education Program FAQs

Conservation education and serving children, families, and schools are at the core of FONZ's mission. We are taking this time to assess our current education portfolio and develop a plan for future programming.

FONZ is suspending all education programs, including early education and home school programs, day camps, birthday parties, and overnights.

Nature Cubs in a Box will continue through the end of our planned season in May. If our plans change, a member of the education team will email you directly.

After May we will suspend Nature Cubs in a Box, assess our current education portfolio, and develop a plan for future programming.

FONZ early education programs are suspended as we assess our current education portfolio and develop a plan for future programming.

FONZ in-person and virtual camp programs are suspended as we assess our current education portfolio and develop a plan for future programming.

There are currently no plans for teen volunteer opportunities. We recommend checking the Zoo’s volunteer webpage to learn about new opportunities that may arise.

As advertised, your Sofa Safari Online Activity will be available through May 31, 2021. You will need to log in to your FONZ account to access your activity.

FONZ will not host birthday parties at the Zoo, but the Zoo may begin to hold birthday parties in the future. If your birthday party was canceled in 2020, and you believe that FONZ is holding a 2021 birthday date for you, but you have not been contacted by a team member, please reach out to us at FONZPrograms@si.edu.

FONZ’s home school programs are suspended as we assess our current education portfolio and develop a plan for future programming.

The Zoo currently manages the volunteer department. Please contact your Volunteer Program Manager for additional information.

Volunteer management has transitioned to the Zoo. Please check the website for current and future volunteer opportunities.